There are several different primary strength training goals, but the two most popular are increasing strength or increasing mass.
When it comes to mass, this refers to muscle building or hypertrophy training.
Although there is plenty of crossover between the best leg exercises for mass or strength, if your primary goal is building leg muscle, you will certainly want to choose the specific leg exercises and workout structure that optimizes leg muscle gains.
But, what are the best leg exercises for mass? How should you structure the best leg workout for mass or muscle building?
In this article, we will provide step-by-step instructions for leg exercises that should be included in your leg workout for mass or hypertrophy:
- Barbell Back Squats
- Hack Squats
- Romanian Deadlifts
- Leg Press
- Bulgarian Split Squats
- Barbell Hip Thrusts
- Seated Calf Raises
Let’s dive in!
How to Structure the Best Leg Workouts for Mass
When doing leg workouts for mass, it’s important to not only select the right exercises but also to do enough volume and lift enough weight.
To support your leg hypertrophy workouts, make sure that your diet provides enough total calories, protein, and muscle-building nutrients.
Muscle protein synthesis—the process of building muscle—requires having enough calories—usually a 10% surplus over what you burn in a day.
Health and fitness experts generally recommend consuming 10-20% more calories per day than you’re burning to support hypertrophy workouts.In general, the best leg workouts for mass primarily focus on compound exercises, which are exercises that involve multiple joints and muscle groups working together to perform the movement.
Research suggests that compound exercises tend to be best for building mass and increasing strength. However, adding isolation exercises can also lead to increases in hypertrophy.
Moreover, you also need to employ the principle of progressive overload when performing leg workouts for mass or muscle growth.
There are various ways to do this, namely in either increasing the weight that you are lifting in your leg exercises from week to week or in the volume that you are doing in terms of reps and sets.
For example, if you are doing three sets of six reps of the back squat exercise using 130 pounds, after a week or two, you can bump the weight up to 135 or 140 pounds or increase the number of reps to 8 to 10.
When the goal is to do leg workouts for hypertrophy, it is best to be in the 8 to 12 reps range per set, so in this case, it would be better to stick with the same weight and build up the number of reps.
Once you get to 10 reps or so with the 130 pounds, you would then want to bump the weight up.
You can also increase training volume in leg workouts for mass by increasing the number of sets that you perform.
Although beginners might start with two sets of every exercise in your leg workouts, you should be striving to build up to a minimum of three sets for muscle growth.
Doing three sets tends to be ideal for hypertrophy leg workouts, though some people do perform four sets per exercise depending on their experience level and overall training plan.
In contrast, if you are preferring to do the best leg workouts for strength rather than specifically mass or size, you would focus on increasing the weight rather than the number of reps.
The guidelines for increasing strength recommend sticking within the one- to six-rep range and using a weight that correlates with a minimum of 85% of your 1RM for the exercise.
The Best Leg Workout for Mass
Here are some of the best leg exercises for mass to include in leg hypertrophy workouts:
#1: Barbell Back Squats
The back squat is a foundational leg exercise for mass and strength.
Here is how to do a back squat:
- Stand inside the squat rack with your feet about shoulder-width apart, chest up, shoulders down, and abs engaged.
- Unlock the barbell and rest it across your shoulders and upper traps.
- Bend your knees and sit your hips back as far as possible as you squat down. Make sure that your knees do not travel forward beyond your toes.
- When your thighs are parallel to the floor, and your knees are bent to 90°, pause at the bottom position of the squat and then press powerfully through your heels to return upright to the starting position.
#2: Hack Squats
The hack squat visually resembles a back squat, but the exercise is actually unique, and because it is a weight machine squat versus a free weight exercise, the need to recruit stabilizer muscles and balance the load is largely removed.
For this reason, you can lift much heavier loads, helping isolate the workload to your quads, glutes, and hamstrings for bigger gains in mass and strength.
Focus on moving as slowly as possible during the descent and then exploding powerfully and rapidly through the ascent.
Here are the steps to perform this leg exercise for hypertrophy and strength:
- Stand on the platform of the hack squat machine with your feet shoulder-width apart. Engage your core and glutes, keep your chest up, and relax your shoulders.
- Sit your hips back as you bend your knees, lowering your body until your thighs are parallel to the floor and your knees are bent to 90°.
- Explode through your heels to press upward until you are standing back up fully erect.
#3: Romanian Deadlifts
This is a key leg-strengthening exercise for the posterior chain muscles.
Here are the steps:
- Set the barbell at mid-shin height and stand behind the bar with your feet hip-width apart.
- Hinge at your hips and grip the bar with your palms facing down, making sure to keep your back straight, chest up, and shoulders down.
- Press through your heels, using your glutes and hamstrings to pull your body upright into a standing position.
- Hinge at the hips to slowly lower the bar back down to ankle level.
#4: Leg Press
While it can be argued that the leg press is a less functional exercise for the legs than a barbell or a dumbbell squat because the machine dictates the path of motion in a single plane, there are benefits of adding this exercise to your leg workouts for mass.
Firstly, because you are seated, and the weight machine confines the movement to one plane, you remove the need to recruit stabilizing muscles and balance the barbell or free weights as you squat.
This allows you to lift heavier loads, which, in turn, leads to a greater muscle-building stimulus for your quads and glutes.
Secondly, the leg press is an excellent alternative leg exercise for mass for those who may experience back pain.
Because you are seated and pressing the load from the weight stack, you do not need to place your spine under the barbell load. This alleviates stress on the spine and can be safer for maximum lifts.
Here are the steps for this leg hypertrophy workout exercise:
- Lie back on the leg press machine with your head and back fully supported, your knees bent to 90 degrees, and your feet up on the platform a little wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Grip the handles.
- Press through your heels to extend your legs without fully locking out your knees.
- Bend your knees to slowly return the weights to the starting position.
#5: Bulgarian Split Squats
The Bulgarian split squat is one of the best leg workout exercises for mass.
While it works all of the major muscles in the lower body, elevating your rear foot isolates the demand on the quads and glutes on the front leg.
Here are the steps:
- Stand about three feet in front of a bench, facing away. Your front foot should be far enough forward that when you drop into a lunge, your front knee does not extend beyond your toes.
- Reach one foot back and place the laces part of the shoe down on the bench.
- Hold dumbbells down at your sides or a barbell across your upper traps.
- Bend your front knee and back knee to drop down into a split squat, ensuring to brace your core and glutes.
- When the thigh of your front leg is parallel to the ground, pause and hold the contraction for 2-3 seconds.
- Explode through your heel to return to the standing position.
- Complete all of your reps and then switch sides.
#6: Barbell Hip Thrusts
For this reason, you should try to include this barbell exercise in a leg workout for mass.
Here are the steps:
- Place your shoulder blades on the long side of a bench with your body bridging off the side so that your knees are bent 90 degrees, your feet are hip-width apart and flat on the floor, and your butt is in line with your back and body.
- Rest a barbell across the crease in your hips.
- Lower your hips towards the floor, and then squeeze your glutes to lift back up to the top position where your thighs are parallel to the ground.
#7: Seated Calf Raises
This calf exercise helps target both the gastrocnemius and soleus, making it a great leg exercise for mass.
Here are the steps for how to perform this leg mass exercise:
- Sit up straight at the seated calf raise machine with your knees bent 90°, the pads on your thighs just above the knees, and the balls of your feet on the step.
- Unrack the weight and then press into the balls of your feet, contracting your calf muscles to lift the weight as high as possible.
- Pause in the top position for 2 to 3 seconds.
- Then, slowly drop your heels as far as possible to the floor, holding the stretch for several seconds.
You can read tips for how to build muscle fast in our muscle-building guide here.